December 10, 2023

For Efficiency, Data is Everything

Author: Ryan Smithson
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Imagine you’re trying to find a better method for cleaning
your house, so it takes, say, three hours instead of four, and costs you $20
per cleaning instead of $60. You could just go buy the cheapest cleaning
solutions. You could tie paper towels to your dog’s feet and throw a ball
around the house. You could buy a robot to clean for you. But none of those
solutions will be both effective and economical. So where do you start?

One word: data. In order to come up with the leanest,
meanest cleaning plan, you’d have to know things like square footage, number of
rooms, average time of a single broom sweep, and average cost per spray of Windex.
Only after you understand all the metrics can you develop a plan that will save
both time and money.

Of course I’m not talking about your Saturday cleaning
schedule; I’m talking about school transportation. But the philosophy is the
same: get the data. On a recent webinar
panel, three transportation directors from across the country shared valuable
advice for finding efficiencies and reinvesting those saved dollars back into your
district. They all had different plans, but their method came down to a single
common denominator of targeting the right data in the right form, quickly and

Step 1) Get the
: Knowing cost per mile is okay, but a superintendent wants
percentages, says Joe Dives from Magnolia ISD, TX. They want the 10,000-foot
view of the operation. What percentage of costs are fuel? What’s the total walking
and driving distance for students at a particular school? How does the
geography of an area translate to transportation deadhead dollars? Getting this
data can be a time-consuming process without the right tools at your

Step 2) Make the plan: Joe has the right tools — Versatrans Routing & Planning — and was able to figure out that, in one geographically rural area, he could combine grades 7-12 on the same set of runs and then transfer off certain students to save the extra mileage on the transfer bus.

By analyzing the data in Versatrans, Jason Nelson at Kyrene
School District, AZ was able to find efficiencies by analyzing deadhead time,
which is created automatically by the software. By splitting up his boundaries
into reportable quadrants, he was able to discover where his runs had
unnecessary detours. By reworking and confining them to those quadrants, he was
able to find many efficiencies.

Tim Shannon at Twin Rivers USD, CA found efficiencies by
analyzing deadhead, too, including through a bell time study that allowed him
to tier routes and reduce his buses from 300 to 190 and even eliminate a bus

Step 3) Increase the service:
When it comes to school transportation, it’s not just time and mileage. There’s
a third ingredient: service. You cannot compromise student safety or customer
service simply for the sake of being more efficient. However, as Tim from Twin
Rivers points out, when you’re more efficient, it can actually increase your level of service. By minimizing
drive time on routes, for example, kids don’t have to be out the door as early
or stay on the bus as long. If your software can track and automate around cross
street or walk hazards, then safety doesn’t have to rely on a router’s attention
to detail. And as Jason from Kyrene pointed out, routing data can provide
insights by showing the planned clock-in/out times for drivers rather than a
flat hourly rate for each day.

Step 4) Innovate:
Tim Shannon was able to use demographic data from Versatrans Routing &
Planning to figure out what routes/buses were servicing disadvantaged students.
With this information, he was able to win a substantial grant for electric
buses. Not only did he have to use the data to determine eligibility for the
grant, but he used the route mileage to prove his buses could stay within the
100-mile range for electric engines. The return on investment has been
substantial: electric buses cost about 16 cents per mile (compared to 82 cents
for diesel), and they require 60% less maintenance, often going up to 10,000
miles before needing service. Tim even receives carbon credits, which is direct
money that he can reinvest back into his operation. He also works with local
utilities to sell back residual power during peak times and re-charge the buses
during off peak times. It’s a classic “buy low, sell high” technique that, he
says, makes fuel costs nearly nonexistent.

Tim has the largest electric fleet in the country now, and is
on the cutting edge of both technology and renewable energy simply because he
had the data needed (and the smarts to use it) to show eligibility and a plan
for using grant money. There are so many more examples we could talk about, so
if any of this is important or interesting to you, please watch this webinar on
Needed Dollars by Reducing Operating Costs
. Leave your comments and
questions below and visit our website
to learn more about Tyler’s software solutions!